The surprise team of the Big Ten offered nothing out of the ordinary this weekend.
The Gophers volleyball team lost a match to a team undefeated in the conference and beat one that was winless to remain near the top of the Big Ten standings.
After getting swept in three straight games at Michigan State on Friday night, Minnesota rebounded to defeat Northwestern in four games Saturday night in Evanston, Ill.
The Gophers are now 16-7 overall and 7-3 in the Big Ten, good for a third-place tie with Wisconsin and Ohio State.
While preparing for the weekend, Minnesota coach Mike Hebert said the Northwestern match was the more important one because it was much more winnable. A few factors tried to make it a little less winnable, though.
First, because of the long distance they had to travel, the Gophers arrived in Evanston only four hours before the match began. Also, fans avoided Welsh-Ryan area like it was an Antarctican Dairy Queen. Only 150 people showed up to watch the match, making the teams feel as though they had been quarantined from a measles outbreak.
“You have to supply all your own energy,” Hebert said. “It’s much more difficult to play in an empty gym. The big, hostile crowds fire you up.”
The Gophers, however, did what was expected of them. They dropped a tough third game, 18-16, but won despite not playing as sharp as they have for most of the last month.
“I was hoping we’d play a little better,” Hebert said. “But we probably did as well as we could under the circumstances.”
Although the Wildcats’ record didn’t show it, they had played several other teams tough, including then-No. 14 Ohio State.
“I knew it would be more difficult than it looked on paper,” Hebert said. “But we played well enough to win.”
The Gophers’ level of play worked against Northwestern, but they would’ve had to play impossibly above that the previous night against No. 6 Michigan State.
The Spartans made Minnesota their 14th consecutive victim and were seriously challenged only in the second game, which they won 15-13.
“We played pretty well at Michigan State,” Hebert said. “We were just overmatched. We had a chance to win the second game, but we just missed it.”
Despite playing against a much bigger team in the Spartans, Hebert said that the Gophers’ blocking, especially Jane Passer’s, was solid this weekend. They occasionally had trouble handling serves, though, leading to some bad passes.
“Jane Passer’s blocking was a standout feature all weekend,” he said. “(Gophers junior setter) Becky Bauer also did a nice job. Our passing broke down a lot, so she had to do a lot of running around.”
In all, Hebert was satisfied with his team’s performance this weekend, something that probably doesn’t surprise him anymore.
“I was happy with our effort and everything else,” he said. “We played with confidence and purpose.”
Friday’s SummaryGophers 9 13 7 — 0
Michigan State 15 15 15 — 3
Leaders — Kills: DeDecker 17, Passer 7, Fiamengo 6, Pearman 5, Baynes 4. Digs: Pearman 9, DeDecker 7. Assists: Bauer 34.
T — 1:35. A — 1,721.
Saturday’s SummaryGophers 15 15 16 15 — 3
Northwestern 7 11 18 6 — 1
Leaders — Kills: DeDecker 28, Passer 12, Fiamengo 10, Pearman 9. Digs: Passer 22, Bauer 14, DeDecker 13, Fiamengo 12, Pearman 12. Assists: Bauer 53.
T — 2:11. A — 150.